Why “Golden Rule” Leadership Doesn’t Always Succeed

One thing I’ve noticed about leadership is that it resembles the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would wish to be treated.” That’s great if your leader thinks like you, not so great if they prefer a different manner of communicating or giving/receiving orders.

So as an introverted, quiet worker who prefers to work alone, my leadership habits–on those rare occasions where I allow myself to be in a leadership position–reflect my desire to be left alone as much as possible. In practice this means:

  • Providing a minimum of instruction, guidance, and supervision. This approach assumes that a) my subordinates have the ability, knowledge, and self-discipline to do what I’m asking them to do without my input.  I also assume that people prefer to use their creativity as much as possible.
  • Few to no meetings. Meetings for the sake of meetings are not my favorite things. Time spent in a meeting means time you’re not being productive.
  • More communication by email. Email is asynchronous, meaning it doesn’t have to be answered right away. It’s also quieter and less likely to wander off-topic.

This approach is not without drawbacks, however. New employees, for example, need more guidance, even if they have the professional skills because they lack experience with the material or an organization’s preferred communication methods. In addition, some individuals are not as fully confident in their ability to do something new or unusual.

Some people are extroverts and need to do their thinking aloud, among other people. They might have questions not covered by the minimalist guidance given up front.

Also, some folks find email “cold,” unfeeling, and uncaring. They like and prefer social interaction, even–or especially–if the conversation wanders off-topic.

In those situations where I’ve been in leadership positions, I’ve fallen prey to all of the above assumptions and misunderstandings. And whatever your particular personality makeup, you need to remember that not everyone thinks about or responds to the world the way you do.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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